I’TIKAAF – SECLUSION IN THE MASJID
The meaning of ‘I’tikaaf’ is to seclude oneself in the Mosque, with the express intention (Niyyat)of ‘I’tikaaf’. According to the Hanafi school of thought, this may be of three different types:
Waajib I’tikaaf (Obligatory I’tikaaf)
I’tikaaf becomes compulsory when a person makes it obligatory upon himself. For example, when a person makes a vow to Allah that if Allah fulfils a certain wish of his, he shall perform so many days ‘I’tikaaf’, in this case, the moment his wish is fulfilled, the I’tikaaf becomes compulsory. Or a person may just make an unconditional vow, whereby he makes I’tikaaf Waajib upon himself for a certain number of days; this becomes obligatory for him from that moment onwards.
This was the general practice of the Beloved Prophet Salla Allahu ta’ala ‘alayhi wa ‘aalihi wa Sallam. It means to seclude oneself in the Masjid for the last ten days of Ramadhan.
For the third category i.e. Nafl I’tikaaf, no special time and no specific number of days are fixed. A person may make a Niyyah (intention) for any number of days at any time, even for his whole life.
While Imam al A’zam Abu Hanifa Radi Allahu anhu states that I’tikaaf must be for not less than a full day, Imam Muhammad states that there is no limit as to the minimum period of time. The ‘Fatwa’confirms this latter view. Therefore, it is desirable for anyone entering a Masjid to make the ‘Niyyah’ (intention) of I’tikaaf for the period that he will remain in the Masjid; so that, while he is in Ibaadah, he also earns the reward of I’tikaaf.
OBJECTS OF I’TIKAAF AND ITS ADVANTAGES
In view of the above, it is advisable that everyone entering the Masjid to join the congregational prayer should, on entering the Masjid, make the Niyyat for ‘I’tikaaf’, in that case it means that as long as he remain busy with Salaat, dhikr, listening to lectures or sermons he also receive reward for the I’tikaaf. I always observed that my late father used to make ‘Niyyat’ for I’tikaaf whenever he entered the Masjid. Occasionally, by way of teaching and reminding his followers, he would raise his voice when reciting when reciting the words for ‘Niyyah’. The reward for I’tikaaf is great as indicated by the fact that the Most Beloved Prophet Salla Allahu ta’ala ‘alayhi wa ‘aalihi wa Sallam always used to perform I’tikaaf. The example of him who resides in the Masjid in I’tikaaf is that of a person who, having gone to a certain place to appeal for something, remains there until it is granted. When someone comes begging at our door and then refuses to leave until he has been granted his request.
I am sure that even the person with the hardest heart amongst us will eventually give in to his request. How much more Merciful is Allah, and when someone persistently sits at His door, what doubt can there be in the fulfilment of his wishes. The actual aim is to divert the heart away from everything except Allah, and to make it come near to Allah, thereby forming a complete spiritual connection with the Creator. All wordly connections are thus cut off, for the sake of gaining Allah’s attention and all thoughts, desires, love and devotion become centred around Him. As a result, an attachment with Allah is attained – a love and friendship that will be the only support in loneliness of the grave. One can possibly imagine the great ecstacy with which that time in the grave will be spent.
In Maraaiqul Falaah, the author writes that I’tikaaf, when properly and sincerely performed, is among the most virtuous deeds. One cannot possibly enumerate all the great advantages and benefits in it. In actual fact, what takes place in I’tikaaf is that the heart is drawn away from everything else except the Creator, while the soul is actually laidat His door-step. All the time, one remains in a state of ‘Ibaadah‘, even when one is asleep, one is still in His worship striving for nearness to Him. And Allah says (according to a Hadith): “Whoever draws near to Me (the length of) one hand, then I draw nearer to him (the length of) two hands, and whoever draws near to Me by walking, I draw nearer to him by running.” Moreover, in I’tikaaf one seeks refuge in the house of Allah, and is safe therein from all enemies.
WHERE TO PERFORM I’TIKAAF
The best of places for I’tikaaf are the two sacred haram shareefs, that is the Masjid al Haram in Makkah, and the Masjid an-Nabawiy in Madinah, and the next best is Bayt al Muqaddas. Thereafter, comes the Jaame Masjid in one’s own region, and last but not least, the Masjid nearest to one’s home. Imam Abu Hanifa Radi Allahu anhu stipulates that the Masjid should be one wherein the five daily Salaat are regularly performed, while Imam Abu Yusuf Rehmatullahi alaih and Imam Muhammad Rehmatullahi alaih agree that any Masjid acceptable to the Shari’ah can be entered for I’tikaaf.
The above applies to the males. As for the females, they should perform It’ikaaf in the private prayer room (Masjid set aside in their own homes). Where, however, no such demarcated place exists, any one room or part of the house should be set aside for this purpose. I’tikaaf is thus in fact an easier task for women. The domestic duties can be performed by daughters or servants under her supervision and the woman in I’tikaaf, while remaining in a section of her own house, is spiritually rewarded for it. It is so very unfortunate that, in spite of this relative ease, our womenfolk still remain deprived of the blessings of I’tikaaf.